Disclaimer: This opinion piece reflects the authentic views of the individual USYer who authored this blog post. The stance on issues brought up in this article is not necessarily representative of the views of USY as an organization.
As a Zionist, so many of the actions made by Israel I look at extra closely. I look at Israel either as an example of the “moral high ground,” or so that I know the details of an event before I hear it from someone else who may be more critical. I followed Israel’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic with the same hopes and inhibitions.
Just a few months before the nation went into quarantine, Israel had three elections in the span of just a few months. Israel was in a state of political turmoil, and at times, I feared what this meant for Israel’s future. Much to my relief, two parties, Blue and White and Likud, formed a unity government on March 2 bringing an end to the streak of elections. This brought stability right as the country was going into lock-down. I think USYers in the United States would agree that it is not hard to imagine the stress of a national election occurring during a Global Pandemic. I felt proud of Israel as they took the necessary strides to prevent the spread of the virus. Israel was praised all around the world for its closure of schools and strict social-distancing laws. On a personal level, I remember having meetings in early summer with the NOAM Olami Partnership Coordinators on IGB and NOAM teens in Israel as they told us that they could go back to school and were planning on attending camp in the summer, while I was still accepting the cancellation of my high school graduation and of USY summer programs. I felt bad for those that missed out on incredible experiences but proud that Israel was serving as an inspiration to other nations around the world.
However, not everything was as good as it appeared. Israel entered a second-wave of the virus and my friends in NOAM were unable to go through with many of their summer plans. This reflected as a whole that Israel was grossly unprepared for a second-wave. While Israel was previously praised for its quick response during the first-wave, it was criticized for easing the lock-down too early and allowing large gatherings without more precautions. It is devastating that as of Oct. 16, 2,139 Israelis have died from COVID-19, and 301,389 Israelis have been infected. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been criticized for not doing more to prevent the spread by the opposition party. In response, he said that: he “call[s] on opposition members to not use the coronavirus to divide the nation and pick up a few votes in the polls. It’s only possible to defeat the coronavirus if we go together.” In many ways, it is clear that Bibi has made many mistakes in his response to the pandemic, but speaking from the position of someone living in the United States, it looks like he is attempting to enforce what is possible in order to protect his citizen’s health by enforcing a second lockdown, continuing to limit travel, and to have newcomers quarantine upon arriving (as those on Nativ will attest to). In fact, Bibi has been criticized by his ultra-Orthodox base for not allowing religious Jewish schools to open in person. Watching it from afar, it seems that Israel has not done the best job protecting its citizens compared to other nations, but has made many more significant strides in contrast to the United States, and has worked to prevent future mistakes.
On a more optimistic note, Israel reached its peak number of new cases on September 23, and this number has been steadily decreasing. Additionally, on Monday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that Israel’s Institute for Biological Research will begin testing their coronavirus vaccine, Brilife, on humans at the end of the month. I know that Israel has not been perfect in handling the Coronavirus pandemic, but watching from the perspective of an American, I am admirative of the nation’s collective efforts to contain the virus (and that my quick Google Image search brought many more photos of Prime Minister Netanyahu wearing a mask than it did of President Trump), and that Israel is optimistic for a potential vaccine.
Becca Raush serves as the 2020 USY International Israel Affairs Vice President. Originally from the Mizrach Region, she is currently a freshman at Rutgers University.